Minutes after his team lost another game, this time 17-13 at the hands of the Tennessee Titans to finish the season with four straight losses for the first time since 1992, Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora pushed his hat back from his forehead to reveal a face drenched in sweat, coaxing reporters during a lull in questioning to keep firing away.
“Keep asking questions,” Mora said. “C’mon, I’ll answer your questions. … Give it all you got.”
Mora’s handling of his final, end-of-game press conference for the 2009 season was indicative of the way his team played throughout the season – at times looking like a team that could compete with some the better teams in the NFL, while at other times struggling to put two good plays together.
“We just don’t have a lot of margin for error on this football team right now,” Mora said. “And so it’s just tough for us to overcome when we get those opportunities and we don’t capitalize. It’s difficult for us.”
Seattle finished with a 5-11 record, the team’s second straight losing season, and the first in the NFL head-coaching career of native son Mora, who had promised a return of the Seahawks’ winning ways.
In the process, the Seahawks contributed dubiously to NFL history, allowing Tennessee running back Chris Johnson to become the sixth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
But Johnson needed a bruising and energy-sapping 36 carries to achieve the mark, rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns to finish with 2,006 yards for the season. Johnson also set the NFL record for total yards from scrimmage, gaining 2,509 to eclipse Marshall Faulk’s record set in 1999.
The Seahawks had a chance to win the game at the end, with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck taking the Seattle offense downfield on a promising drive that ended 27 yards from a go-ahead score.
On fourth-and-9 from Tennessee’s 27, Hasselbeck stepped up in the pocket under pressure and tried to float a pass to a wide-open Deon Butler along the sideline. But Hasselbeck couldn’t get it over the outstretched arms of Tennessee linebacker Gerald McRath, who gathered in the ball for Hasselbeck’s only interception of the game, and the Titans’ offense ran out the clock from there.
“The plays were there, I think,” said Hasselbeck, who threw for 175 yards and a touchdown on 15-of-30 accuracy. “It’s the story of our season. Opportunities were there and we didn’t take advantage of them.”
After starting the season 0-6, Tennessee rallied to finish 8-8.
With the Seahawks looking for a new general manager to lead the team, Mora was asked if he thought he would be back next year.
“I haven’t even given it a second thought,” he said.
Seattle veteran safety Lawyer Milloy came to the defense of his coach.
“Obviously, I think highly of him and I’m biased toward him,” Milloy said. “I think everybody in the league deserves at least two years to get it right. You want to see if guys are still responding to him in a positive way, and I think it was evident today that guys were.”
The game was evenly played throughout, with no lead larger than seven points.
Tennessee jumped ahead, marching right down the field after the opening kickoff, with Johnson rushing eight times for 35 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 to put the Titans up 7-0.
Seattle tied the game midway through the second quarter on a five-play, 73-yard drive punctuated by a Hasselbeck pass to tight end John Carlson for a 6-yard score.
The teams traded field goals in the second half, with Olindo Mare making kicks from 35 and 20 yards to push his streak of successful kicks to a team-record 21 straight. In between, Tennessee’s Rob Bironas drilled a 47-yarder to tie it at 10 after three quarters.
Mare’s second kick gave Seattle a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. But only after the Seahawks had a first-and-goal at the 2 and failed to punch it into the end zone.
That drive would come back to haunt the Seahawks. The critical play for Seattle came with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game and Seattle punting from its own 14.
Seahawks punter Jon Ryan failed to cleanly field the snap from Jeff Robinson, and had to scramble to get the punt off. It went 19 yards and set up the Titans 33 yards from the Seahawks’ end zone.
A 29-yard pass from Tennessee quarterback Vince Young to receiver Nate Washington put the Titans at Seattle’s 2, and Johnson plunged into the end zone from a yard out to put his team up for good, sending Seattle into the offseason with another loss.
“If you have a season like this, I think you’ve got to really take a long, hard look in the mirror, each of us as players,” Hasselbeck said. “That’s something that I’ve got to do. ... Just try to figure out, what can I do to improve?”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437
The NFL scheduling formula determines what teams the Seahawks will face next season. The schedule will be published in the spring. The opponents:
Home: Arizona, San Francisco, St. Louis, Atlanta, Carolina, Kansas City, San Diego, N.Y. Giants
Away: Arizona, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Denver, Oakland, Chicago